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A cat lies in the sun and is content. Another day it's contentment is marred by the tiniest, most ineffable disturbance at the back of its mind. Contentment marred is no longer contentment, and the cat obsesses. After an interval, it lights suddenly on an idea, and tests its claws on rocks, on earth, on pieces of furniture, on everything, striking satisfactory lightning blows, tearing, ripping, pinning and biting. Its passion is quelled for a while.

The process repeats itself, but on each successive occasion the tiny, ineffable sensation goads it further. Rocks are no good, earth is poor, furniture is poor. Balls of string are so-so.

The sun rises in ignorance on a great day. This day, the cat strikes a sparrow dead with a single blow and tastes its warm flesh. Hmmmmm...interesting. Hmmmmm...entirely satisfactory.

Finding itself locked indoors one day, the cat toys once again with the ball of string, but listlessly. Now it dreams only of sparrows. Happiness is no longer sufficient for it has known exultation. The cat, whose inner voice sounds uncannily like that of the young Orson Welles, thinks: God damn and rot and burn this gilded prison! I will escape, escape and kill again! Miaow!

It is older and, at one year, as wise as it will become. The once tiny, ineffable sensation, facet of a barely nameable thing as ancient as the rocks and hills — a thing simultaneously physical and metaphysical, a thing simultaneously platonic and concrete, something worthy of fear and awe, a tremendous, jealous god of all cats — has found its perfect expression: Stalk, avoid the sparrow's sight, know it, anticipate its flight, and strike one deadly blow. Even if it wanted to be, the cat can never again be innocent of this. Teach a kitten philosophy and it may keep its virtue and restrict itself to string; teach a cat philosophy and it must either kill and be damned or suffer the endless cruel yearning for blood.

Humankind, Freud tells us, is fundamentally sexual. I've had some difficulty accepting this as I happened, for reasons associated with physiological experiments in which I was engaged, to have a rugged polythene bag securely but unwisely fastened over my head at the time I sat down to read it, and things threatened rapidly to get out of hand. My natural tendency since has been to regard people as fundamentally oxygenal, though I admit I've found this proposition to enjoy complete favour amongst deep-sea divers only.

Granted, air and water can usually be taken for (um...) granted. Food, on the other hand, has been a central preoccupation of most people throughout history down to the present day. Beyond food lies belonging, beyond belonging status, beyond status sex, beyond sex a smooth but satisfying Carrolls, and beyond a smooth but satisfying Carrolls the neglected gods of Asgard await.

Cats strike sparrows, squirrels squirrel away, and people... Well, people do what people do. Though a mountain of tender, meaty, Katty-chow may be available in nineteen delicious varieties the cat will still strike the sparrow dead, and he will do it both without malice and with pleasure.

I mentioned the gods of Asgard, so a general caution is in order: the kinds of behaviour they encourage are held in cold regard in most locales. Don't get into it or you'll live to regret it, and it's no coincidence whatsoever that that bunch of bastards are all but dead and their voices echo only weakly today. Envy the cat his vibrant death god if you must, or envy the squirrel his god of acorn troves, but if you hear Thor whispering in your ear my advice is to keep right on walking and see a doctor immediately.

Or buy an SUV. God! Not a tenth the bang of smashing a deer's skull in but at least you'll be certain of killing the other bastard even if you don't survive the collision yourself. Get yourself a set of titanium golf clubs while you're at it. Great God! No peacock struts so proudly! Erect a monumental dwelling overshadowing the entire town. Great and powerful God! A question for you, Comrade Stalin. Do you think things would be better if everyone were to do exactly as you say? Can it make any sense for anyone to answer no? Climb Everest and damn the swarming vermin from the summit. Great, powerful and terrible God! I worship you purely but still you are not satisfied! Just tell me how can I appease you?

We are fish out of water, again. The adults are all 50, 100, 150 years and more dead. Their brattish children live in plenty, frozen in adolescence. Absent the essential hunger, we toy listlessly with the ball of string or gorge on Katty-chow, yearning for the ineffable sparrow of fulfilment. Best maybe not to find it? Well, we are not cats. Cats only have heads. Wolves have faces too, mind.

Wear Trousers!
© 2003 Adrian Kelleher

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